VIP Robert Altman

Robert Altman (February 20, 1925- November 20, 2006)

After serving in World War II as a pilot, Kansas-born Robert Altman wrote magazine stories and radio scripts before becoming a television and film director. His unique, realistic style wasn't appreciated by the major studios and he was set to move to Canada in protest over the Vietnam war when the producer of M*A*S*H hired him after seeing a short film he had made about marijuana smoking called Pot au Feu. Altman took the Ring Lardner Jr. script that other directors had refused and turned M*A*S*H into an ensemble cast masterpiece and smash hit that won the Palme d' Or at Cannes in 1970.

Among his innovations were recording each actor separately on radio microphones instead of a single boom mike. He gave people like script supervisor Jill Tewkesbury a chance to write, sending her to Nashville to takes notes for another breakthrough film named for that city. He started Lion's Gate production company to keep his ensemble working in between his own films. "His process was to get his friends together and see what evolved," said his wife in the 2014 Ron Mann documentary Altman. Actors said he made filmmaking like being in a family.

In his TV series Tanner '88, written by Garry Trudeau, the fictional presidential candidate comes out against the US war on drugs, saying, "Any war that makes 25 million Americans criminal is a loser." Altman called it his most innovative work. He scored another Palme d' Or as best director for The Player (1992), a brilliant skewering of Hollywood that doubles as a thriller.

Robert Atlman was voted the 17th Greatest Director of all time by Entertainment Weekly and among the 69 feature films he directed are M*A*S*H* (1970), McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) and The Player (1992). His stunning collaboration with dancer Neve Campbell The Company (2003) was tragically overlooked but his Gosford Park (2001) won nearly every Best Director award worldwide and his Prairie Home Companion (2006) was well received.

An April 5, 1992 review of The Player in the New York Times quotes him saying, "I was a heavy drinker, but the alcohol affected my heart rather than my liver. So I stopped. And I miss it. I really like that kind of life. I smoke grass now. I say that to everybody, because marijuana should be legalized. It's ridiculous that it isn't. If at the end of the day I feel like smoking a joint I do it. It changes the perception of what I've been through all day." Interviewed in 2004 for The Guardian, Altman said he loved to party, still wasn't drinking and still liked to smoke marijuana. He lit up a joint after the interview and reported that he smoked pot sitting across from prime minister Tony Blair at a party.

Upon receiving an honorary Oscar at the 2006 Academy Awards, Altman revealed that he had been the recipient of a heart transplant approximately 10 years prior, and hadn't gone public out of fear that it would hinder his ability to get work. When asked about retirement, he responded, "You mean, death?" In June 2006, at the age of 81, Altman told the New York Daily News he was taking pleasure in pot more than ever. "I've increased it because of my heart condition," Altman said. "I even have a prescription for marijuana pills."

Altman seemed to have a cannabis consciousness. He served on the board of directors of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and he once said, "When I look around America today I feel we're over-saturated with goods. Like most of western Christian civilization, we feel it's fine if we're comfortable and, if the rest of the world isn't, then that's their problem. We're not generous. And the idea of paying some chief executive $40m a year is just obscene. I don't deny it's nice to have silk sheets or whatever, but we live in a deeply unequal society and our luxury is both excessive and wasteful."

Of his directing technique, Altman said, "I don't storyboard anything. I go on a set in the morning and, unless a scene requires a lot of props, I won't even tell the crew what I'm going to shoot first. I know what the set-up is and which actors are required. But I have to see what occurs and like to shoot in sequence if possible. It makes for a lot of editing but I like to go on a journey with the actors."

In April 2006 Altman told Vanity Fair his proudest accomplishment is never making a movie he didn't want to make. He listed Kathryn Reed, to whom he was married since 1959, as the love of his life and said his motto is, "Giggle and give in."

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